Liz Stephens - NCAA Career in Sports Forum

Liz Stephens - NCAA Career in Sports Forum


View this release to learn more about Stephens selection and the NCAA Career in Sports Forum


Day One
June 12, 2011

Before I reflect on my first day at the NCAA Career in Sports Forum, I’m going to rewind a few months…

In all honesty, when I first applied for the forum, I had very little background about what it actually was and I certainly didn’t know what to expect.  I have constantly changed my mind since I was little about what I wanted to be ‘when I grow up.’ I have a lot of different interests and it seems that every other day, I come up with a new idea for a career path. Coaching is one thing that I have always come back to, but about the time I applied for the forum it wasn’t a path that was fresh in my mind. Despite that fact, I filled out the application on a whim and figured I had nothing to lose. When I first found out I was selected in April, I almost felt guilty because I wasn’t sure I technically belonged there and I wondered if I was taking someone else’s chance at an opportunity.  I decided to attend the forum because I love, and always will love, the game of basketball. I don’t remember a time when basketball was not a part of my life and as I come closer to the end of my collegiate career, I can’t imagine what life would be like without it.  I also figured it would be a good way to learn the ins and outs of collegiate athletics both as a coach, and from an administrative point of view. I thought by attending the forum, it would make a career in athletics more realistic and help me decide if it was really for me. 

Anyways, with that being said, I arrived in Indianapolis, registered at the hotel desk and with the NCAA, and went back to my room to go through the pile of papers, books, and the workbook they gave us.  I also met my roommate, Brooke, who is a senior volleyball player at Western Illinois University.  She’s a biology major and wants to be a physical therapist.  She, along with some other participants, isn’t sure she wants a career in athletics but is also using the forum as an opportunity to figure out if it’s something she really wants to do.  After knowing this, I felt a lot better that I wasn’t the only one with doubts. 

The session started off with a keynote speaker named Jason Barger and he is the author of the book Step Back from the Baggage Claim. Mr. Barger was a graduate of Denison University and was also on the men’s basketball team there.  His book is based on the 7 consecutive days he spent flying to 7 different cities without leaving their respective airports. He studied 10,000 minutes of behavior and reflected in his book of how our airport experiences can teach us about our lives.  It sounds a little crazy, but his presentation was very inspirational.  He also shared seven things that are essential in order to be a leader in the 21st century, such as knowing the difference between service and entitlement, communicating clearly, and being a complex thinker while also simplifying those thoughts into actions.  Mr. Barger’s book was included in the packet we received and it seems to be a worthwhile read.

After the keynote speaker, we split off into groups that were comprised randomly of both men and women from all sports.  A few weeks ago we were sent a packet that needed to be completed prior to the conference.  We had to determine what core values were most important to us and how they affect our career paths and how we have to use them to brand ourselves when we first meet someone for an interview or conferences such as this one.  We also had to do short interviews with colleagues, classmates, and a boss/advisor and complete a personal evaluation called a DiSC assessment. They handed back our results for the assessment and we spent a big chunk of that session analyzing and interpreting our results.  The acronym stands for Dominance, Influence, Conscientiousness, and Steadiness.  It’s a pretty extensive report so I won’t go into too much detail, but it helps determine how you think and act in a team or workplace environment and you are identified as a certain style.  Many of them overlap, but mine said my style was ‘Si’ which means my primary style is Steadiness and my secondary style is Influence.  The report also included paragraphs that described certain traits that match with my style and the traits described me almost perfectly.  One of the people that I interviewed for my forum pre-work also described me very closely to the DiSC report. It was very interesting and I think it’s a great tool for companies and organizations to use.  More information can be found at

Following that meeting, we had a very entertaining etiquette dinner taught by Ms. Nonnie Cameron Owens.  She is a contributing author to another book we received called The Power of Civility.  Ms. Owens is a retired flight attendant and taught an etiquette class for Southern Methodist University.  The dinner included great food and some very helpful table manners to use in business and formal dining situations.

After dinner, we split into our different coaching/administrative tracks, mine being basketball. Our facilitator was Todd Howard, the current men’s head coach at IUPUI.  He was just appointed head coach this past spring after 16 years as an assistant. He is also a former player at University of Louisville.  In today’s meeting we covered various topics such as coaching philosophy, how to get your foot in the door as a collegiate coach, the changes in responsibilities when transitioning from an assistant to a head coaching position, and administration and budgeting.  I was also able to ask him a few questions myself, such as how to keep a good relationship with academic or athletic administrators when there are budgeting/financial issues and what his coaching style is and why it works for his program.  One of the best things about this forum is the ability to ask questions and to learn about other programs.  After being at Lake Erie for three years, I think I have a pretty good sense of how our athletic program works, but this is a great chance to learn about other schools and how their programs work since they’re all different sizes and divisions. 

We met one last time with our other group to reflect on the day and then we all headed back to our rooms. Brooke and I headed downstairs to the fitness center and we soon found out what happens when you put 300+ collegiate athletes in one hotel!  The fitness room (which was pretty impressive as far as hotels go) was packed. Eventually we were able to snag a treadmill, got a decent workout in then headed back upstairs.  The best part about day one was that I can once again picture myself in a coaching position, and I picture myself doing it very successfully.


Day Two
June 13, 2011

Day two was another long, yet informative day at the Career in Sports Forum.  We started the day off with breakfast and opening remarks from the NCAA president, Dr. Mark Emmert. He touched based on the mission of the NCAA, which is to guide student-athletes in the right direction so that they get both a great education, and the opportunity to compete. He also made sure to tell us that we are very lucky in the United States because we are the only country where we mix higher education and athletics, and it opens many doors and presents different opportunities. His primary focus was not just on how to be successful in the NCAA, but how to be successful in the workplace no matter who your employer is.  You should constantly think about what skills you can learn from another person or employment opportunity and realize that management and leadership skills are developed over time.  He compared them to athletic skills; you may be born a natural athlete, but they become better with practice. 

After Dr. Emmert spoke, Mr. Kevin Lennon, the Vice President of Academic and Membership affairs, spoke to us about the national agenda of the NCAA. The three main points that are constantly being tweaked and are always of concern are financial sustainability, integrity and recruitment, and enforcement. We learned that there are only 17 programs in the entire Division I that are self-sustainable because they are making their own profit, rather than costing their institution money.  The integrity of the organization, its administrators, coaches, and student-athletes is always being challenged and it was emphasized that integrity is something that needs to be prioritized as soon as a coach starts recruiting their athletes.  Finally, enforcement is always an issue because they need to keep the playing field as equal as possible, even though it isn’t always the case and it can be very difficult.  They are currently trying to decide if they are too lenient on student-athletes, especially those coming in as freshmen because they currently only require a 2.0 GPA.  In the next year or so, it is highly likely that the expected GPA for incoming freshmen will rise to a 2.5. 

Mr. Lennon also talked about the Academic Progress Report and each school has one that is based on team GPAs and graduation rates.  The APR is currently required in eight NCAA sports and every head coach has one associated with them and it travels with them throughout their career even if they are hired at another school. I also found out that if a specific athletic program at an institution is failing academically and put under probation and they don’t improve in the time allotted by the NCAA, they can cause their ENTIRE athletic program at their institution to be ineligible.  Although this has never happened, it is currently being threatened to several programs this year. It doesn’t seem fair to have that burden put on an entire institution if say, it is just the women’s basketball program that is failing.  However, this rule helps to make sure that the institution, the athletic department, and the sport specific program are working together and doing their jobs.  This is an example that as a coach and athletic director, you need to be pro-active and be aware of the performance of your athletes and make sure they are taking advantage of academic help and tutors, and to also make sure you are recruiting quality student-athletes that will hold themselves accountable. 

We covered a lot of different topics throughout the day from networking, interview skills, and resume critiques to coaching tactics, crisis management, and health and safety awareness.  We also had a mini job fair where we could meet different employers from organizations and businesses such as the Secret Service, Finish Line, U.S. Border Patrol and Customs, the Horizon League Conference, the NCAA, and many others.  Overall it was an incredibly informative session!